The Public Domain Review

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The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

Wednesday 14 November 2012 at 15:22

In 1911 the soon-to-be poet laureate Robert Bridges published the poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben, a school friend who had drowned to death at the age of 19 almost half a century earlier. Carl Miller looks at Bridges’ lengthy introduction in which he tells of the short and tragic life of the boy with whom fellow poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was reportedly besotted. Popular success came late in life to Robert Bridges—not that he much cared. When the journalists finally descended on his house in the summer of 1913 he responded first with indifference; and then not at all, leaving their importuning knocks unanswered. One might suspect that he had learned to hate the press from Tennyson, whose grand performance as Poet and Sage had burdened the Victorians of Bridges’s generation with an interpretation of the role whose hoary magic they could never quite forget, however much they’d come to hate the trick; but Bridges’s own reserve was deeply felt and honestly acquired. He was born in 1844 into a wealthy family of the Kentish gentry, and as such he had no need of ever living by his pen. He loved poetry but studied medicine, believing that a physician’s practice [...]